Avian Diversity in the Agroscapes of Nicaragua's Northern Highlands
Nicaragua's highland forests are threatened by continual wood extraction and encroaching agriculture. The effects of forest loss and fragmentation on bird communities and local human populations remain relatively unknown. Forest Service scientists characterized bird colonies in agroforestry systems under five natural and agroforestry land use types to compare and evaluate local and regional avian biodiversity in natural and anthropic habitats to predict the consequences of habitat and biotic losses to regional livelihoods.
The complexity of the landscape mosaic determines the extent of the benefits from organic farming and other agroforestry management practices. Nicaragua's rapidly expanding agricultural landscapes are composed of varied habitats that play an important role in the conservation of diverse species, including birds, a major indicator of biodiversity richness. Birds protect trees from insects that consume foliage, thereby increasing tree growth, and maintaining the integrity of natural and agroforestry ecosystems.
At local and regional levels, agricultural landscapes, or agroscapes, provide refuge, nesting sites, and food sources for wildlife and contribute to the connectivity of remnant forest patches. Some habitats within the agricultural matrix—monocultures and extensive grazing and pasture lands—generate isolation effects that negatively affect highland forest biodiversity and ecosystem products.
The northern highlands historically have been dominated by coffee cultivations scattered among patches of cloud forest, one of the most threatened ecosystems on our planet and one with the highest biodiversity recorded in the neotropics. Cloud forests usually develop on the saddles of mountains, where moisture introduced by settling clouds is more effectively retained.
The scientists characterized and compared bird communities among five land use systems in the Department of Jinotega in northern Nicaragua to document those bird communities that are most important in maintaining a rich biodiversity as well as communities that are vital to agroforestry production and local revenue within the zone. Species richness and abundance were greater in coffee plantations and forest fallows, whereas disturbance-sensitive species were more abundant in secondary and riparian forest. Species and foraging guilds characteristic of closed-canopy forest were found in coffee plantations, but only at points near forest remnants.
Research results determined the contribution of each land use type within natural forest and agroscapes in maintaining biodiversity, to improving the conservation and connectivity of forest patches, and to alert farmers and private reserve owners as to the best mix of natural and human-influenced habitats that safeguard resources while enhancing livelihoods.
Forest Service Partners